By Jameson Parker
Man is a tool-using animal. He has devoted more of his time and ingenuity to inventing new and improved ways of killing his fellow man than he has in inventing anything else, and the results have been spectacular, particularly in the years since World War II.
By comparison, hunting and sporting tools have barely made any progress at all. Over 100 years after their heyday, market hunters and tweed-clad sportsmen like your great-grandfather would instantly recognize your quail or trap gun for what it is, while you couldn’t identify a nuclear warhead if you got one as a Christmas present.
The double-barreled shotgun of today is a relatively subtle improvement on a tool that was, essentially, perfected in the late 1800s, not many years after French gunsmith Casimir LeFaucheux developed the world’s first breech-loading shotgun utilizing pin-fire cartridges. The refinements on the semi-auto or self-loading A-5 John Browning introduced in 1902 are equally subtle. If you doubt either of these statements, consider that many people today still hunt with Winchester Model 12s or Parker Bros. guns that were old back when your grandfather was slipping notes to your grandmother in Social Studies.
Nonetheless, improvements have been made, and what follows are some of the most important innovations of the last 50 years.
The credit for this goes to Winchester and its Winchoke, the first successful factory-installed variable-choke system, introduced in 1970.
The concept of choke boring was the brainchild of Fred Kimble, originally from Illinois, a colorful, legendary, diminutive 19th century man of many diverse talents: inventor, artist, musician, checker champion and gambler, but remembered most for his extraordinary shooting ability.
The English claim they came up with the idea of choke boring, and it is possible that the concept occurred to two different people in different countries simultaneously, but by 1868 Fred Kimble was already winning live pigeon shoots with his 36-inch barrel six-bore at $1,000 a match. To put that in perspective, in 1868 a man could live for a year on $1,000.
Variable, or interchangeable, choke devices of some kind may have been in existence since the 1890s, and the Cutts Compensator and the Poly Choke have both been around since well before World War II (both were created in the 1920s), largely in response to the popularity of single-barrel guns, such as the Browning A-5 and the Winchester Model 12.
Yet, factory-manufactured-and-produced interchangeable choke tubes were not introduced until 1961 by Winchester on its Model 59 auto-loader. Known as Versalite, neither they nor the gun were a roaring success. The gun was discontinued in 1965, and it wasn’t until around 1970 that Winchester worked out the kinks on the choke system and began to offer it on its 1200 and 1400 shotguns under the name Winchoke.
Even then, choke systems didn’t take the world by storm at first. Mossberg came out with a version in 1978, and Weatherby came up with its system in 1982, but it wasn’t until after that date that choke tubes became universal.
Today, you would be hard pressed—or /very/ rich—to buy even a double barrel without choke tubes. The English and high-end European gun makers do not offer choke tubes. This is partly because the thinking is that if you can afford $100,000 for a gun, it won’t break you to order a second set of barrels, partly because they fine-tune their chokes on each individual gun to the owner’s requirements, and partly because British shooters, in particular, have always varied their shot size and loads to match their shooting needs.
To read this article in its entirety, pick up a copy of the August issue of Gun World magazine, available on newsstands now.